Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: The Man in the Maze by Robert Silverberg

I pulled this sci-fi novel from the depths of my bookshelves, looking for the magic that existed in the writings of the masters of the genre.  In so many science fiction books of the 50's and 60's, writers like Isaac Asimov, Clifford D. Simak, and Robert Heinlein concentrated on the ideas, the aspects of mankind progressing out of their own microcosm here and out to the universe.  Once in the stars, most sci-fi writers found that the universal themes they thought about were also at the very core of their own minds.  To go outward, you must go inward. Robert Silverberg did a fantastic job in combining Roddenberry with Jung.

Each of the main characters are introverted, brooding, well constructed men who decide the fate of the human race even while examining their own emotions.  Dick Muller, the damaged soldier who lives on the planet of Lemmos and its large, deadly maze constructed by aliens from a long forgotten civilization.  Charles Boardman, the confident manipulator of men, armies, worlds, whose weary nostalgia reveals an old man who tires in his actions even as he moves forward.  And Ned Rawlins, the naive, ideological crew member of Boardman who, as a child, knew Muller.  Boardman and Rawlins' mission is to retrieve Muller from his self-imposed exile in the maze which only he has mastered.

The maze is, of course, a symbol of the inner workings of a man's mind.  The maze is so well described by Silverberg, in direct prose that gives a vagueness of dimension and detail while allowing the imagination to fill in the rest.  (I say this because there are too many authors, like Terry Brooks, for instance, that will describe every tree in the forest. Sometimes it's best to let the reader's mind make some of it up.)  I also think that the 1978 Mass Market version which I have has the best cover, portraying the maze as an ornate, spiraling city of rooms and walkways, of endless deadly traps and machinations.

In chapters spread throughout are the histories of the three men.  What made Muller different, what the aliens he met did to him, and why he was shunned from the rest of humanity afterwards.  What desperate mission do they need him for, even to risking the lives of men who must go into the maze, knowing that one false move will send them into spikes, boulders, or lakes of fire.

In the end, we see mankind's outlook on his world and his future.  The stoic, the cynic, the righteous, even the epicurean.  It made me wish the book was longer, that the days spent in the maze were longer, the delving into the maze that is the human psyche was more complete.  I felt as if there was something Silverberg was looking for, and it was he that could not finish the maze, and so had to leave it undone, damaged somehow.  At the end, when Muller returns to the maze (and by saying that, I'm revealing nothing), he goes to retrieve something he'd lost.  And maybe that was what Silverberg felt as well.

I will say one more thing about the novel, which to me meant absolutely nothing, as I've come to expect this from most sci-fi authors.  The women in the story are simply sexual tools, empty bodies with breasts and long hair.  They are the short skirted crewwomen walking down the halls of the Enterprise. And while this would make the modern reader bristle with politically correct righteousness, I do not think it takes away from the book itself.  When you read sci-fi from the 50's and 60's, you must realize that there are few if any women characters with strong character traits.  You have to look at works by Sherri S. Tepper, Ursula K. LeGuin, even Orson Scott Card, to find them.  In other words, you pick the book up recognizing that the main characters will be men, and you find the underpinnings of the man's mind to be such.  Enjoy the dark, brooding characters, and don't let modern ideas about writing come into play.  It would be same as criticizing writers of times past from putting in strong, liberated African-Americans, or removing the prejudiced feelings of Whites from older books.  You have to read these books about the future as works from the past.  And find, like so many other classic works of literature, that their are lessons even in the oldest of writings.

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